16. Chapter 15 ~ Paths We Walk Alone
1st day of October
Fourth Age, Year 80
"Stop that, you little minx," Elrohir laughed as Laurëanna nibbled on his ear. They were riding out of the forest and she was sharing a horse with him, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist. "We need to hurry back so we can rejoin the others."
Laurëanna groaned and said with a pout, "I am tired of hiding the seriousness of our relationship from my father. We need to simply tell him the truth and explain there is nothing he can do about our decision."
"I would prefer a less painful death, my love," Elrohir smirked. "You need to be patient. We will tell your father when it is the right time. He has just recently stopped glaring at me every time I come near you. We need to wait until he has accepted our relationship as a good thing rather than something we have devised to torture him senseless."
"But what about my torture?" Laurëanna replied, her hands moving to encircle his muscular arms. She leaned her head in and slowly rained hot kisses on his neck.
After a few moments, Elrohir groaned and leaned away from her reluctantly. Though this horse knew him and his wishes, he needed to pay some attention to their path.
"You are the torturer, not the one being tortured by either of us," he said. "Let us hurry."
Giving up arguing with him, she snuggled tighter to him as they rode to meet Airemír, Rumil, and Elladan at the stables.
Watching her daughter and some friends laughing as they walked back from their ride and picnic, Indil smiled.
"How long do you think Glorfindel realizes that soon Elrohir will be asking for your daughter's hand?" Taravil asked with a chuckle. "Once again, the husbands are making wagers on the outcome of that conversation."
"So I have heard," Celebrían said, indignantly. "You would think that being married to my son is the worst possible thing for Glorfindel to imagine for his daughter."
"It is not the idea of your son that distresses him. It is the idea of her being married to anyone's son," Indil sighed. "I have tried to reason with him. I have explained that she is not a child anymore and that this is a good thing."
"Elrohir loves her and makes her happy," Celebrían added. "Perhaps they will even have a child soon."
Indil cut her eyes to her friend sharply. "Please do not mention that to Glorfindel if you want him to even consider this. The thought of his daughter being in love is enough. He does not need to think of them committing any acts of love or it might drive him mad."
Taravil could not help but laugh. Glorfindel's overprotective nature had become the topic of many discussions in the city. Now that he had no Balrogs to slay or battles to wage, his main enemy had become any male that set foot near his daughter. Since Elrohir had asked for permission and then begun to openly court Laurëanna, Glorfindel had become increasingly overbearing, watching for any indiscretion that would give him the right to permanently maim Elrohir. Of course, Thranduil could not help but feed the fire, much to Elrond's frustration. In fact, Thranduil had been the one to begin the wager amongst the others.
Trying to temper the situation, Elrond had a long talk with Glorfindel, reminding him that courting and marrying were natural for young elves. Also, he had noted how good it was for Laurëanna and Elrohir to have found happiness with each other. Glorfindel had silenced him by pointing out that Elrond ought not lecture about being reasonable about what a man offers in exchange for his daughter and added that, like Aragorn, Elrohir was a descendant of kings and perhaps he should have to obtain a crown and scepter before he would be allowed to marry, hmm? The two did not speak for a week or so before their wives resolved the situation.
"The fact of the matter is that Glorfindel loves his daughter more than anyone other than you Indil. You merely need to make him realize that if Laurëanna loves Elrohir, he must allow the match, or else he will force her to deny her true happiness," Celebrían explained.
"It sounds so simple," Indil laughed. "Let me go and do that right now."
Traditionally, at least one day during the week, the three families gathered together for their evening meal. Rumil and Airemír were also invited, since they were such close friends. Tonight the meal was at Elrond and Celebrian's house, and the twins were in the lounge waiting for the others to join them.
Growing tired of watching Elrohir pace back and forth, Elladan finally asked, "What is the worst that could happen?"
Elrohir glared and replied, "I would rather not think about the worst." Finally he sighed loudly and sank down in a chair. "I am certain that Glorfindel will realize that it was only a matter of time before I asked. And he knows Laurëanna will accept when I do. So logically he knows deep down that we will eventually be married."
"Deep down. Way deep down," Elladan smirked. "And Glorfindel is nothing but logical when it comes to his daughter."
Elrohir felt horrible. He was berating himself for being nervous, but at the same time he knew he should be. Jerking around to look at his brother, he suddenly asked, "What if he says no?"
"Laurëanna will throw a temper tantrum to rival Ulmo, and then she will jump off a cliff to her death after her father dismembers you," Elladan shrugged.
"You are not helping matters," Elrohir said with a glare.
"I know." Elladan beamed at his brother.
After dinner, with wine goblets in hand, the company drifted into the garden. Steeling himself, Elrohir stopped Glorfindel and Indil before they had a chance to leave the house.
"May I have a word with you and Indil?" he asked Glorfindel politely.
Indil smiled brightly and answered for them both. "Of course, Elrohir. Perhaps some place more private." Taking his arm, she steered him into Elrond's library, leaving Glorfindel behind with no option but to follow them.
Laurëanna observed this encounter and rushed over to Elladan, pulling him away from the others. "What is Elrohir talking to my parents about?"
Elladan did not answer other than to smirk at her.
"Valar!" Laurëanna whispered. "Should I go in there as well?"
"To tend to his wounds? Perhaps," he answered, chuckling as Rumil and Airemír joined them.
"What is it?" Rumil asked them, in a conspiratorial whisper.
"Elrohir is talking to my parents," Laurëanna said, chewing on a fingernail and looking towards the library with great concern.
Rumil almost choked on his wine and. After he finished coughing, he sputtered, "Are you serious? Do you think…"
"Of course!" Airemír said gleefully. "He is going to ask for their blessing so he can ask Laurëanna to marry him. This is wonderful." Excited, she hugged her friend tightly. "Do not worry so. We all joke about your father's temper, but he only wants your happiness."
"Right," Elladan agreed before he and Rumil burst into laughter. "Even if it is Elrohir that makes you happy."
"I am going in there," Laurëanna said, walking towards the door. Unfortunately Celebrían, looking very stern, intercepted her.
"Certainly you are not going to interfere on this, Laurëanna," she admonished. "Do you not have faith in my son to handle this properly?"
"Of course, but…"
"And you realize, I assume, that it is a matter of pride for Elrohir to ask this of your father. How would he feel if he thought you did not think him capable?" Celebrian continued.
Laurëanna nodded with a sigh. "I know you are right. I just wish he had warned me that he would do this tonight so I could have been better prepared."
"You are not the one who needed to prepare," Celebrian said with a wink. Both of them turned to see the library door open and Elrohir lean out, looking frustrated and drained.
"Laurëanna, could we please speak with you?" he asked.
"Of course," she answered, and with a nervous glance towards her friends, she walked to Elrohir. Taking his hand, she followed him back into the room.
In the library, her mother was sitting in a chair glaring daggers at her father while Glorfindel paced back and forth in front of the bookcases. He stopped when he saw her enter the room holding Elrohir's hand.
"Laurëanna, sit down," her father said.
Glancing at her father, she shook her head and boldly answered, "Ada, I do not need to sit down for you to ask me what I assume you will be asking me." She looked at Elrohir and, squeezing his hand tightly, she smiled. "And the answer is yes."
"How can you answer when you do not know the question?" Glorfindel snapped, throwing his hands in the air, completely exasperated.
"Because I have thought of this day for a long time, and I have imagined every question you could possibly ask me about my feelings for Elrohir. And yes is the answer to them all. Yes, I love him. Yes, I wish to spend all of my days by his side. Yes, I know he loves me as well. Yes, I know he is much older and has led a life heretofore that I cannot begin to imagine, and yes, even though he is not perfect, he is perfect for me. I have known since the first day I laid eyes on him that no other would ever make me happy." Her eyes never left Elrohir's, and when she finished, he smiled proudly at her. Both of them drew strength from one another. Elrohir reached out and stroked her cheek lovingly.
Turning back to her father, Laurëanna saw her mother smiling mistily. "Ada, please do not deny me this. Do not deny me the happiness that you have given Mother. I have never asked anything of you that is more important. And consider: If you deny me, I will find a way, some way, to rebel against you, which is something I have never done before. Telling me I cannot marry Elrohir would be the only thing you could ever say to me that I could not forgive."
The room was quiet as Glorfindel observed his daughter in a new light. She no longer was a child who would do anything to win her father's approval. Now she knew what she wanted and would be unstoppable if anyone stood in her way, just as he had been at her age. Her eyes were bold and determined, with just a hint of pleading. In his heart he knew she wanted more than anything for him to give this to her willingly rather than make her fight him. Then he glanced over at Indil, and she gave him a warning look that told him his days would be numbered if he did not agree to this.
Finally his gaze settled on Elrohir, who stood beside Laurëanna, proud and determined. Glorfindel had known Elrohir since he was a mere child, and as much as he wanted desperately to cling to his daughter, Glorfindel knew no other more worthy of her love than Elrohir, except perhaps Elladan. Glorfindel had always loved the twins and Arwen like they were his own children. It seemed only natural that now Elrohir would be his son, if only by marriage. For many years he had watched sadly as the twins raged about the savage abuse their mother had suffered. He knew that Elrohir's love for those he cherished was fierce. And Elrohir loved his daughter.
Sighing deeply, Glorfindel knew he had to resolve himself to this fact. "I have no choice in the matter it appears," he told them. "Judging from Indil's face, I think I may speak for the both of us. Elrohir, you have our blessings and best wishes to marry our daughter." Before he could say anything else, Laurëanna ran to him and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.
With a smile that could illuminate all of Tirion, she said, "Ada, thank you. I love you, and soon you will see how Elrohir is the only one for me. But he will never replace you."
Hugging his daughter tightly, Glorfindel saw Indil hugging Elrohir and laughing through happy tears. He thought of the many times he had wished that his daughter would never leave him, and now he had just given his blessing to allow her to be taken away. But even as he felt sadness, he also felt comforted by the certainty that Elrohir loved Laurëanna almost as much as he did himself.
15th Day of March
Third Age, Year 3019
Minas Tirith, Middle Earth
Laurëanna struggled to wake. Her whole body felt heavy and lethargic. Many times she tried to clear the fog in her head and weakly tried to open her eyes. After a while she was able to sort out her thoughts enough to open her eyes, and she looked around in confusion. With effort, she sat up, feeling exhausted even though she had just woken up, but the worst part was the total confusion she felt.
How had she ended up here, again? Had she just dreamed Minas Tirith ablaze on the horizon this morning? Glancing towards the small porthole, she saw that it was a dreary day but obviously not early morning; afternoon, then, or perhaps early evening. Rising, she had to steady herself a few times as waves of dizziness poured over her like a waterfall.
Laurëanna decided she needed to find Elrohir as soon as possible, and she stumbled to the ship's cabin door. She tried to open it only to find it locked. Thinking she must be mistaken, she tried again and again until it sank into her mind that the door was indeed locked from the outside. Panic began to swell as the realization hit that someone had intentionally locked her in this room. At least, the feeling of terror was waking her more effectively to her confusion. After pounding on the door for some time, she sat down on the bed to decide what to do.
Sorting through her memories, trying to find some explanation of what had happened, she systematically ruled out most reasons. Finally, something jumped out at her at last. Tea! Elrohir had offered her tea when they were on the deck, and that was one of the last things she remembered. She could not remember her husband ever offering to make her tea before; it had come completely out of the blue. Yet he had offered to not only make but also bring her some tea when everyone was discussing what to do to keep her safe going into the battle. Shock quickly turned to rage at the realization that her own husband had drugged her. How could he? How dare he?
"Elrohir, if you live through this battle, I will make you live to regret it," she seethed under her breath.
Determined to get out of her 'prison', Laurëanna started examining the door for a way to unlock it from the inside. Whatever they had done to lock it from the outside, she was unable to access the mechanism from the inside. Furious, she kicked the door and pounded on it for a few minutes, screaming for someone to let her out. After cursing in three different languages in terms that her mother would be appalled by and offering up empty threats, she gave up, knowing that if any men had been left behind to guard her, they would not let her out under the orders of Elrohir or possibly even Aragorn.
Not willing to give up completely, she climbed onto the bed and realized that the window was big enough that she could use it to get onto the deck. As she was getting ready to do exactly that, she heard an uproar outside her door. She stood frozen as a man that she recognized from Pelagir burst into her room.
"My lady, the ship has been boarded by orcs. We need to get you out of her," the man said to her.
"The hallway is blocked!" another second man called from down the passage. After confirming that there was no way to exit down the hall, the two men closed the door and moved a chest in front of it.
"We can go out of the window," Laurëanna said, her voice trembling at the thought of encountering orcs. She fumbled around the tiny cabin until she grasped the hilt of a sword. Thank the Valar that Elrohir had overlooked it, Laurëanna thought. The hilt felt awkward in her hand, but she clutched it tightly.
"You stay here. I will go get aid and…" the older man said.
"Stay here? So they can slaughter me like a caged animal?" Laurëanna looked at him like he had taken leave of his senses. "No, thank you, I will take my chances on the deck."
Before he could say anything else, Laurëanna pushed open the window, then she carefully looked both ways before pulling herself and her sword through the hole. After a few minutes, the two men followed her, looking at her doubtfully. They tried to work their way aft, so they could climb onto the harbor's pier. Within minutes orcs noticed them and cut off their path.
"We cannot go that way," one of the men yelled at her.
"Then we only have one choice. My lady, I hope you can swim," the young man said as he grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the bow of the ship. Soon orcs tried to block that way as well, and the man lifted her up onto the railing.
"Jump!" he ordered her.
Holding tight to her sword, Laurëanna jumped as far away from the ship as possible into the freezing water below. Breaking the surface, she gasped for air and tried to adjust to the shock of the water. Surveying her position, she started swimming towards the end of a pier that did not have a boat docked near it. A moment later one of the men, the older one, joined her in the water, and she asked, "Where is the other man?"
"Keep swimming, miss. He did not make it," the man said.
Laurëanna nodded, too hurried to feel sadness for a man she did not know, but who had died trying to protect her. She and her remaining guardian swam to the docks. None of the orcs bothered to follow them into the water. Perhaps they were too intent on taking the boats to waste time on a female and an old man. As soon as Laurëanna and her escort got to the pier, the man grabbed her arm and faced her.
"Miss, you stay close to me. The battle is still raging something fierce, and those orcs are trying to take the ships out of desperation. Be prepared for anything. Do you know how to wield that sword?" he looked at her sternly.
Resisting her urge to speak to him sharply out of indignant annoyance, Laurëanna nodded, her lip trembling with cold. She knew this was not the time to be offended for being treated like she was a weak female incapable of protecting herself. Hearing the sounds around them, she was beginning to wish Elrohir's plan had worked and she had slept through the whole battle, safe and sound. She had never heard anything quite like this before, not even during the fighting at Pelargir a few days ago. The men and orcs battled here, and she heard sounds of swords and shields clashing and explosions so loud they sounded like a mountain was falling down. The worst were the shrieks from overhead, which made her blood run cold. She was reminded of Elrohir's description of this battle, back when they had discussed it in Valinor. Still, even knowing what she knew, she was not prepared to come face to face with more orcs, a troll, or worse, one of the Nazgul on their fell beasts.
'If Ada can face a Balrog, you can face an orc,' she thought to herself, but she was not fooling herself into thinking she was nearly as brave as her father. But she was smart enough to be terrified.
Quickly, the two of them climbed up onto the dock escaping anyone's notice. Creeping behind some crates, they moved towards the landing. Laurëanna tried to focus on her own predicament, but the sounds of battle grew stronger. Smoke from the many fires in and around Minas Tirith made the air hard to breathe, and her eyes burned. Looking ahead, she could see the towering white city in the distance, but it was so hazy, even with her keen eyesight she could not see how much damage had already been done to the city. A roaring sound, accompanied by the ground shaking, caused her to jerk her head to the side, and she found herself staring at the biggest creatures she had ever seen. She had seen drawings of mûmakil, but the sheer size was close to overwhelming. Even the man stopped for a moment and stared before he pulled her arm to follow him.
Amidst the cover of the crates on the dock, they waited until they were in less danger of being seen by the orcs raiding the ships, and then they ran towards the city. Laurëanna ran as fast as she was able, knowing it would not be long before they were noticed. Too quickly she heard the clash of swords and turned back to see four orcs attacking the man who'd followed her from the ship.
"Run!" he screamed at her.
Laurëanna paused for a split second, thinking she should help the man, but then one of the orcs ran in her direction. The feral look in his eyes made the decision of fight or flight for her, and she ran towards the first group of men she recognized as friendly forces. She dodged the enemy when she could, but she still had to ward off a few blows. Caught off guard at one point, she tripped over a dead man, sliding in the slick blood on the ground, and crashed into his unmanned and panicky horse. The horse's stirrups were still partially inhabited by the boot of man she had tripped over. Two strangely dressed, dark-skinned men she suspected were Haradrim attacked her before she could free the horse. Their scimitars clashed loudly with her sword as they fought. Over the clamor, she heard Aragorn call her name.
His voice reassured her somewhat, but she did not look up, knowing that one glance away could prevent her from fending off her attackers. The Haradrim had her pinned between them and the dead man's horse, which actually gave her an advantage in that the horse protected her back. Until, of course, the half-mad horse bolted. Thankfully, soon Halbarad and Aragorn rushed to her aid. But that good news, too, was short-lived: Soon a half dozen Haradrim had joined the fray.
Everything was so chaotic; Laurëanna did not know who was fighting whom or who had the upper hand. Needing more protection, she reached down and grabbed a shield, ignoring the sense of disgust she felt at taking it from the dead man whose body they were now trampling on.
Rage filled her as the men continued to parry every stroke she made. The harder she fought, the more progress they made, and she was always a hair's breadth from death. When one of the men grazed her side with his blade, she screamed in fury and pain. Angrily she kicked at the man who had cut her, managing to knock him down. She realized her mistake when he grasped her calf, pulling her down to her knees. Another Harad warrior took advantage of her distraction and closed in for the kill. Too late she saw his weapon and felt like her heart would explode in panic. His long curved blade was almost at her neck when suddenly his head flew off and splatters of blood and gore flew into the air, some landing on her face and in her hair. She blinked in shock and revulsion as his headless body collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Laurëanna took a few deep breaths and looked up gratefully at Aragorn, who had also fatally stabbed the other attacker on the ground. For a brief moment they were safe and, standing back up, Laurëanna said, "Thank you…"
"Why are you not on the ship?" Aragorn snapped, glaring at her.
"Because the orcs did not wish to share it," she retorted, angry at being treated like a child when she had done the best she could. "I did not choose to be here, my lord."
After a moment, Aragorn said, in a gentler tone, "We need to get you into the city. There is no way you can manage out here on your own."
Laurëanna did not argue, she merely nodded. Screams around them caused her to look up.
"Nazgul!" someone cried.
The piercing screams of the nazgul and their fell beasts felt like little knives shrilling into her head. In horror, Laurëanna covered her ears, watching in shock as one of the fell beasts swooped down and picked up two horses with screaming riders and took to the sky again. Flying towards the city, the fell beast dropped the broken horses over a group of Rohirrim warriors, using their own kin as weapons against them, then flew low over the men again. Further away, she could see the mûmakil. Everywhere she looked she saw dead men or severed body parts scattered amongst orcs' and horses' carcasses. Any chance of victory looked hopeless to her eyes.
Taking her arm and therefore forcing her to focus, Aragorn continued with surprising calmness, "Halbarad will take you into the city. I need to stay here."
Before she could reply however, Aragorn shoved her to the ground and fell on top of her, knocking the breath out of both of them. After untangling themselves, Laurëanna realized Halbarad had actually thrown himself in front of Aragorn to deflect a blow from an orc's mace. While Aragorn and Halbarad fought the two creatures, Laurëanna crawled away on her hands and knees. Once the enemy had been killed, Halbarad stumbled a step or two before he collapsed onto the ground, laboring to breathe.
Aragorn ran to him and sank to his knees, trying to find his wound. Laurëanna jumped to her feet to keep watch for any more attacks, but she peeked back after a moment, her spirit unsettled by the wet cough she heard from Halbarad. She saw Aragorn trying to staunch a veritable fountain of blood that was gushing from the gaping hole in Halbarad's side. Though Halbarad had worn good armor into battle, it did not cover him completely, and the mace had struck him at a vulnerable spot. Aragorn ripped some of Halbarad's cloak and bandaged the wound as much as he could. Unable to bear the sight, and knowing that she was their main defense at the moment, Laurëanna wrenched her gaze back to the battle at hand. So it was that she saw rescue long before it arrived at her side.
"Why are you here?" Elladan said as soon as he and one of the Dunedain were close enough for her to hear.
"Never mind that; Halbarad is injured," she answered.
"Elladan, take Halbarad and Laurëanna to the city," Aragorn ordered in a strained voice. Laurëanna could tell by the look on his face that the wound was very grave.
"I can take Halbarad, and Elladan can stay here. That way you will not lose two fighters," Laurëanna said, not including herself in the count of warriors. She knew her own skills at fighting were rough.
"You cannot hold him, and he cannot support his own weight," Aragorn argued.
"I can still fight," Halbarad said weakly as he struggled to sit up. "If you put me on a horse, I can…"
"You will go to the Houses of Healing," Aragorn ordered as he and Elladan helped him to his feet. The ranger dismounted his horse and helped Laurëanna mount as Aragorn continued to give her instructions. "Keep close to Elladan on the way across the field. You will find the Houses of Healing on the sixth ring of the city."
Aragorn and the other ranger settled their fallen comrade in front of atop the war horse. Halbarad leaned close to the horse's neck so she could see over him. Elladan tried to secure him by strapping him to the saddle using the reins from a dead horse nearby.
Grasping her reins, she asked Elladan, "Elrohir and Legolas?"
"As far as I know," he assured her. He then mounted his own horse.
"Ride fast. May Elbereth watch over you," Aragorn said to her, and then grasping Halbarad's shoulder he continued, "I will see you soon, my friend. We will drink a toast to our victory tonight." Laurëanna could see by the look in his eyes that things were far more serious than he was admitting. Blood was streaming down Halbarad's armor onto her leg, and she knew his wound must be very deep.
"May the Valar protect you on your path," Laurëanna said to Aragorn before he turned away.
Holding as tightly to Halbarad as she could manage while still guiding the horse, Laurëanna followed Elladan at a breath-stealing pace through the battle. They tried to avoid the greatest masses of fighting and used the horses as battering rams against those who tried to interfere with their progress. Before long, she sensed and heard someone else on the other side of her and looked back to see Elrohir close by as well. Relief filled her heart at seeing him alive, but she forced herself to focus the task at hand. Soon they passed through Rammas Echor and weaved in between enemy and Gondorian forces.
The closer they came to the city, the more heavily Halbarad seemed to lean on the horse, and a few times Laurëanna thought he would fall off and take her with him. The pace they were keeping was causing even more bleeding from his wound, and she pleaded with Eru to allow them to make it in time.
Before the gates, Elladan turned away and shouted to her, "Go into the city and find someone to take Halbarad to the healers." Riding in the other direction, he left her to return to the battle.
"Laurëanna, I…" Elrohir called to her as he rode beside her. "Be careful. The city is not completely safe yet."
"Elrohir, I love you," she blurted out as tears burned her eyes. He turned away, and she never knew if he heard her or not.
Entering the city, Laurëanna had expected someone to come to her aid after seeing her struggling with a seriously injured man, but the soldiers and citizens of Minas Tirith were too busy tending to their own wounded and the ongoing battle to notice her. Trying desperately to keep Halbarad seated, she led the horse to the third circle before her way finally became impossible. She saw a small courtyard that was empty and rode to it, managing to dismount while holding Halbarad to the horse so he would not fall.
Looking around desperately, she saw a young soldier rushing past and called to him. "Please sir! I need someone to help me! This man needs a healer immediately."
The soldier rushed over and helped her get Halbarad down carefully and lay him on the ground.
"Bring a stretcher," she ordered him as she sank to the ground beside Halbarad. Checking his bandage, she cringed at the amount of blood he had lost. She knew little about wounds or healing of men, having never been exposed to more than minor cuts and scrapes in her lifetime in Valinor. His pale face, feverish eyes, and his ragged breathing terrified and exasperated her.
At seeing the amount of blood covering her hands, the soldier said, "He looks near death, Miss, and the Houses of Healing are already full. There is no point in taking a healer from someone who can be saved."
Laurëanna was taken aback, and sudden rage filled her before she spoke through gritted teeth. "Perhaps you did not understand me. You will bring a stretcher to take this man to the Houses of Healing or you will soon live to regret it. This man is Halbarad, one of the Dunedain rangers, and he has traveled from the north at great peril to aid your city. He was struck down protecting his kin and your future leader, so I suggest you move as quickly as you are able to find someone to tend to his wounds rather than condemning him to certain death."
Barely more than a child himself, the soldier was shocked in the face of her fury and rose to his feet, saying, "Yes, my lady." He ran off, and she breathed a sigh of relief before looking down.
Laurëanna was surprised to see a slight smirk on Halbarad's face. "I am glad this is all amusing to you Halbarad," she teased, glad to see he was at least aware of his surroundings. Reaching down, she put more pressure on the wound and hoped it would stop bleeding. Halbarad groaned in pain when she pressed, and she jerked her hand back.
"Do not torture me. This has not been my finest hour," he murmured. "Please, loosen this armor so I can breathe easier."
Helping him to sit up, Laurëanna hurriedly unfastened the armor covering his chest and arms, taking it off him before easing him back down to the ground. She looked around the small courtyard and saw an old peasant woman watching them. When gestured, the woman rushed inside a small building then returned moments later with a bucket and some cloths.
"Here is some water for him," the woman said, handing Laurëanna a wooden cup. She then put some of the folded cloths under Halbarad's head so that Laurëanna could help him drink the cool water.
"My name is Heidrun," the woman said as she poured some of the water onto a cloth and began to wipe Halbarad's forehead. "Your friend is of the Dunedain, but you are not, are you, my child?"
"No, I am from the woodland realm of Mirkwood," Laurëanna said, the lie coming easier to her than it had used to. "Thank you for your kindness."
"I have never seen one of your kind, my lady, although I have heard many stories," the woman's eyes twinkled in interest. "My mother used to tell us stories of the elves and how they would walk in the woods putting spells on the creatures and plants there. She said that spring only knew when to arrive if the elves told the flowers to wake up and the trees to bloom." Laurëanna could not resist a smile at the old lady's child-like fascination with elves. She was certain her current appearance, replete with blood and grime caking her face and hair, was somewhat less than magical. "I heard you say that he is with our future leader," Heidrun went on. "What did you mean by that? Gondor's steward is Lord Denethor, and this is not one of Faramir's men."
"Lord Denethor is dead," two soldiers said as they walked up with a stretcher and a healer. Laurëanna wondered how much of her conversation they had overheard, but she hadn't time to ponder it at length. As the healer began to check Halbarad's wounds, the soldier continued talking to Heidrun and Laurëanna, "Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is in command of the city until Lord Faramir recovers, if he recovers."
"Hold your tongue, young man. Lord Faramir will outlive me, and I will not have you say otherwise," Heidrun retorted, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at the soldier.
The healer was an older man whose eyes comforted Laurëanna with the wisdom they held. He instructed the two soldiers to bring Halbarad to the Houses of Healing.
Before she followed them, Laurëanna turned to the woman and said, "Thank you so much for your kindness. I pray the Valar favor us this day and we see peace soon." With a slight smile, she turned and followed the men.
When they reached the Houses of Healing, Laurëanna observed the scene with great sadness. As soon as she entered the house, she realized that the place was packed full of wounded soldiers and citizens of Minas. An older woman rushed into a room where Halbarad was laid on the bed, and Laurëanna was pulled to the side.
"Miss, allow us to see what we are able to do for him. There is water on that table so you can clean yourself, if you wish," the woman instructed her before going to help the healer.
Realizing they were encouraging her to stay out of their way, Laurëanna walked to the table and gratefully sat down, then washed her hands and face with the cloths provided, anxious to remove the disgusting remnants of the battlefield from her skin. Her hair was still damp from her swim from the boat -- and sticky with things she didn't want to think about -- so she braided it hastily to keep it out of her face. Resting her chin on her hand, she waited for them to tell her how Halbarad was doing. She was bone tired and ached from head to toe. It was difficult to believe that this day was not over. She felt like it had been many days since she had last slept, not merely a few hours.
The healer finally came to her and sadly shook his head. "Forgive me, but there is nothing more we can do for your friend."
Laurëanna merely looked at him, waiting for him to continue, to offer some reassurance that Halbarad would heal soon. When the comforting words never came, she whispered hoarsely in disbelief, "Do you mean he will die?"
"The wound was very deep, and he has lost a lot of blood. We have tried to stitch his wound, but we are unable to stop the bleeding. Plus he is weak and feverish, due to more serious internal injuries we cannot heal," the man continued before reaching out and patting her hand lightly. "We have given him something to help ease his pain, but that is all we can do. It will not be long now."
Tears welling in her eyes, Laurëanna shook her head in disbelief. She could not let them give up after all Halbarad had lived through to help these people, to help Aragorn. He had saved both her life and Aragorn's, and now he was dying. Was she meant to do nothing but watch it happen? How could this be? Did these men know nothing of the lengths the Dunedain had gone to aid Minas Tirith?
"Please, do not give up on him. You cannot let him merely…die like this. He is…a hero, he fought hard to help save your city, you cannot simply let him…" she argued, grabbing the man's arm and rising to her feet. "You must not let him die. I will not allow it! You have to do something else, find some way." Maybe they were willing to let Halbarad go, but she was not. Aragorn was not here to fight for his friend so she owed it to him and to Halbarad to make certain these people did not simply give up on him merely because things did not look good for him.
The healer watched her, his face compassionate but resolute as he shook his head in reply. "Forgive me. There is nothing more we can do. All you can wish for is that he will die from blood loss before the pain of his wounds becomes unbearable to him." After a moment Laurëanna released her grip on his arm, the truth of his words sinking in. The healer squeezed her hand and he and his helpers left the room to work with others in need of their care.
Laurëanna tried to stop her tears, brushing them from her face and taking deep breaths in hopes of stopping more from flowing. Halbarad's clothing had been removed and he was cleaned up, making her realize he was almost as pale as the crisp white sheets that covered him. He needed her to be brave; she could not let him see how upset she was. If Halbarad was to die, she resolved that he would not die alone. Taking a deep shaky breath, Laurëanna reined in her emotions, and then went and sat in the chair beside the bed.
"Aragorn?" Halbarad asked weakly.
Laurëanna reached out and took his hand in hers saying, "No, Aragorn is still on the battlefield. I will stay with you until…until he returns."
"I know I am dying. You do not have to hide this," he whispered. "I am ready to leave this world if that is meant to be. I have done what was needed."
After biting her lip so hard she tasted blood, she at last said, "Halbarad, you have done more than anyone could expect. This is not the end, but only the beginning. Soon you will have a peace you have never known. And for all the ages, men will tell the tale of the noble Halbarad who guarded the Shire and rode with the proud Dunedain. They will talk of how you came to King Elessar in his hour of need to bravely walked beside him on the Paths of the Dead to face dreaded the Army of the Dead. The Gondorians will talk of how you fought side by side with their king until the bitter end."
"I would like to see him crowned king," Halbarad murmured. "I knew this day would come. The call to restore honor to the House of Elendil was too strong. I hope we were not too late and that Aragorn lives to restore these lands."
Laurëanna struggled to continue. His voice was so weak; he was fading fast. He cringed a few times, and she could see he was fighting pain but trying not to let it show. Both of them were trying to protect the other from the reality of his impending death, she realized. She did not want him to think that his actions were in vain, even if she made him false promises. "Trust me, my friend, Aragorn will claim victory this night. I have seen this."
Halbarad smiled weakly. He was quiet for a moment before continuing, "I would like to see your revenge against Elladan and Elrohir for their actions this morning."
Laughing quietly, Laurëanna replied, "I assure you that it will be worth staying in this world to see."
Closing his eyes, Halbarad continued speaking with much difficulty, his face strained with the pain in his body. His voice grew so faint that she could barely hear him. "This is a noble death, but I wish I had more time…to marry Belthil…to see our children grow up in peace. She will be waiting for my return."
Laurëanna's tears fell unchecked now. Her heart ached for him. She felt anguish to the core of her being and wondered how Men could survive the pain of losing those they loved throughout their life. She now fully understood something she had never comprehended before: why some elves would chose to fade. If she lost Elrohir, she would fade as well, being unable to linger in the world without the one with whom she had bound her fëa so completely that losing him would be like losing a part of herself.
At this moment, she was struck with the insight of so many things that before she could never understand, despite being told many times in her life: the horror of all that her family and friends had suffered in Middle Earth; Arwen's choice of a mortal life to remain with Aragorn; how her own family and friends had endured the loss of Arwen, Legolas, Celeborn, and Rumil's and Airemír's siblings; the sacrifice they had all made to stay in Middle Earth rather than flee to the safe harbor of Valinor ages ago. All if it was now so painfully clear to her. Anger mixed with anguish within her. She felt impotent rage and wanted to scream how unfair it all was. How could the Valar expect Men to die so young and give their friends no power to stop it?
"I do not regret following Aragorn," Halbarad's voice broke, and Laurëanna could see tears on his dark lashes. "Promise me that you will tell him that I would have followed him to the darkest corners of the world, if he asked it. I trust Aragorn to always lead me on the right path. Now this is a path I must walk alone. When his time comes, I will greet him and we will once again walk together."
Laurëanna could barely speak through her tears. "Halbarad, please reserve your strength and you can say these words to him yourself. All is not lost, my friend. You need to rest, for your body is weary, but even now, I can hear the battle growing quieter, and soon Aragorn will come. You must wait for him."
Halbarad gently squeezed her hand and whispered, "I will rest now. Thank you for staying with me."
Taking a cool rag, Laurëanna wiped the sweat from his brow and tried to cool his feverish skin as she sang to him softly. He moaned from the pain and his breath grew so shallow she could barely see his chest rising and falling. She continued to weep for him but never stopped singing. Too soon, the moans stopped, he grew quiet and still, and his hand slipped from hers. She knew that Halbarad had left this world. Stroking his dark hair and looking at his now peaceful face, she thought of all that he had lost and though that was plenty, how much more had those who loved Halbarad lost on this day. She ached to the depths of her being, as loud, heart wrenching sobs now wracked her body.
Eventually the healers led Laurëanna out of the room, explaining that they needed the bed but promising her that Halbarad's body would be laid in a place of honor until his lord came to the city. Unaware of the stares she was getting from mortals who had never before seen an elf, Laurëanna wandered out into the evening air and was surprised to find that it was almost dark. She tried to find comfort in the fact that the battle appeared to be over and Minas Tirith still stood, but she was too numb for solace for now. When she overheard people talking about the Lady Eowyn of Rohan killing the King of the Nazgul, she laughed bitterly to herself. It seemed appropriate and just that Eowyn killed the Witch King in this thread of time, since in Laurëanna's past the opposite happened. Although she was sad to hear of Théoden's death, she was not surprised that that had remained unchanged.
Laurëanna wandered the street in a daze until she heard that Aragorn had come to heal Eowyn, Merry, and Faramir, but that his men were outside the city walls in tents. She ran through the crowded streets, unaware of what was going on around her. Her only thought was finding Elrohir, needing to find her husband and his brother now. Tears blurred her vision and more than once she almost ran into someone on the streets. On the fourth level, she saw the twins at the same time they saw her. To her surprise, Elrohir ran to greet her and grabbing her into his arms he kissed her repeatedly all over her face, oblivious to anyone around them.
"Are you well?" he kept asking. Unable to speak, she just nodded, clinging to him tightly, needing to feel his closeness surrounding her, to assure her that he was alive and safe.
Finally, she found her voice and whispered, "Elrohir…Halbarad is…"
"Aragorn and Elladan said there was only a small chance he would survive such a wound," he whispered stroking her face.
Fresh tears rolled down her face, and she kissed him fiercely. "I am so relieved you are not hurt. I do not know how I could survive losing you."
Elrohir did not reply, his eyes looking deep into hers as if he was trying to read her mind. Just as he was about to reply, Elladan cleared his throat quietly.
"Forgive me, but there are many injured that need our help," Elladan reminded them.
"Go to the tents and rest. Legolas and Gimli are there," Elrohir said to Laurëanna.
Too drained to be annoyed at being treated like a child again, she shook her head. "No. If I try to sleep I will go mad thinking of what I have witnessed today. I would rather stay with you and help where I can," Laurëanna replied. When Elrohir looked like he planned to argue, she reminded him. "Besides, you do not wish me to be left alone to plot my revenge for what the two of you did to me earlier today. It is best you keep my mind focused on how grateful I am that you lived and not how much I wished to kill you only hours ago."
Elladan chuckled nervously and Elrohir avoided her eyes. Taking her by the hand, he led her to return to the Houses of Healing.